January 8, 2018

CT needs a problem-solver, not party ideologue

Greg Bordonaro Editor

As we move past the holiday season and into a new year, much of the attention will now shift toward Connecticut's gubernatorial race, which will have major ramifications for the future direction of the state.

As such, voters must ask themselves what type of leader Connecticut needs. With a sluggish state economy teetering on the edge of recession and a dismal fiscal outlook, the economy and jobs will be the top issues of this year's race and it's clear that a hyper-partisan candidate who puts party ideology ahead of fair-minded public policy will lead the state down the wrong path.

More than anytime in recent history, Connecticut needs a problem-solver more than a politician. Some have argued recently that today's political climate could make it possible for an independent candidate to seriously compete for the state's top government job.

That's not the point: A problem-solving governor can belong to any or no party. He or she will be the candidate who is honest about our state's problems (unaffordable long-term debt and unfunded liabilities, poor business climate, lack of transportation investment, among other serious issues) and provides realistic remedies to tackle them.

The primary campaign can be a difficult time for fair-minded, problem-solving candidates because they will need to curry favor with their party's base in order to get the nomination. That typically requires candidates to move to the left or right on certain issues. Once nominated, general-election candidates typically move toward the political center.

This is one of the downsides of our political system, and it helps cement in voters' minds the notion that "candidates will say anything to get elected."

In some cases that is true. (Remember Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, as he was campaigning for his second term in 2014, claimed the state wouldn't be facing another deficit, and then announced the budget was awash in red ink shortly after he was elected.)

And the risk of candidates espousing more liberal or conservative positions will be higher this year, given the number of candidates in the race and the need to stand out.

For example, one GOP candidate, the relatively unknown Bob Stefanowski, who made his bones as an executive at GE Capital and UBS Investment Bank, said if elected he would eliminate the corporate and business use tax immediately and phase out the state income tax over eight years, a promise that certainly plays well with the state's ultra-conservative base (if one exists in blue state Connecticut.)

While his pro-growth message is attractive and reducing taxes is a sound long-term economic strategy, eliminating the income tax would be a reckless policy given the state's massive unfunded liabilities and debt. Yes, Connecticut has become too dependent on the income tax, but given that it now produces nearly half ($9 billion) of the state's annual revenues, totally eliminating it would push Connecticut entirely off the fiscal cliff it's been tiptoeing on for nearly a decade.

That being said, the next governor must continue to shrink the size of state government and give elected policymakers, not unions, more control over state spending.

On the other end of the political spectrum is Middletown Mayor Dan Drew, who is vying for the Democratic party's nomination by advocating for higher taxes on the state's wealthy residents, free college tuition to state universities, and a $15 minimum wage as he plays to his party's progressive wing. He's also talked about a single-payer healthcare system in the state.

His recipe would spell disaster for a cash-strapped state that is already losing some of its highest earners and wealthiest residents to lower-cost, warmer climate states.

Any candidate who says Connecticut can tax its way out of the fiscal abyss shouldn't be taken seriously and would be a major threat to future economic prosperity.

As we go through this primary campaign season we should look for candidates who don't simply drumbeat their party line, but who are willing to have an honest conversation about how to deal with our state's challenges.

For example, a Democrat who said he or she will resist increasing income or business taxes, or a Republican who is willing to implement tolls in order to invest in our infrastructure are candidates we should seriously consider.

We need a chief problem-solver more than anything else.

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